The period encompassing the end of the year and the beginning of the new one, right around the winter solstice, certainly constitutes a special season for everyone, Christmas being the most important winter celebration in our western culture. Although the old British tradition of telling spooky stories around the fireplace at Christmas Eve is declining (and never got particularly popular in other countries), somehow the yuletide celebrations keep offering a good setting for authors of fantastic fiction.
Paula Guran, an experienced editor of short story anthologies, has assembled seventeen reprints from various books and magazines revolving around this particular time of the year.
Needless to say, the average quality of the selected tales is more than good, but some stories seem to me particularly worth mentioning.
“Pal o’ Mine” by Charles Lint is the affectionate portrait of a short-lived musician told by her best friend with a deep sense of melancholy, while Gene Wolfe’s “How the Bishop Sailed to Inniskeen” is a dark and creepy ghost story set in Ireland.
Sarban’s “A Christmas Story” is actually a story told at Christmas, a terrible, exotic horror tale showing the world’s wilder side.
Connie Willis contributes “Newsletter” an extremely enjoyable, captivating story with a distinctive SF flavor and a masterful characterization.
Three stories really stand out for me. “Dulce Domum” by Ellen Kushner, is a poignant, insightful tale featuring man who, haunted by childhood uneasy memories, doesn’t feel like going home for Christmas and prefers to spend his time with a lovely woman who does care for him.
“Loop” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, partly a SF piece, partly a technological ghost story, represents a magic, remarkable tour de force (back to the future and forward to the past) where a woman revisits herself as she has been and as she has never been.
Finally the terrific, truly delightful “The Christmas Witch” by M.Rickert portrays with great ability an odd little girl, belonging to an even stranger family, obsessed with bones and witches.
The season is right to fully enjoy this very entertaining anthology.